Everywhere you look, Americans appear to be extremely obsessed with wealth and money. As a society we love money, and we are not ashamed to admit it. In fact, there are times we absolutely revel in it. For example, Time Magazine published an article this year entitled "Science Proves It: Greed Is Good" and hardly anyone even raised an eyebrow. But where will America's sick obsession with wealth and money end? Could it end up destroying us?
It would appear the Fed, after being angry at itself for creating the "complacency" evident in the markets globally has reached the pinnacle of critically circular logic in its defense of policies that are aimed at financial stability (i.e. prices flat or rising but absolutely not falling). Fed's Williams, a la Greenspan's "a-ha" moment, appears to have realized that investors are not always 'rational' and "bull markets may cause investors to get ‘carried away’ over time and confuse what is a one-time, perhaps transitory, shift in fundamentals for a new paradigm of rising asset prices."
The Rich Get Richest: Household Net Worth Rises To All Time High Courtesy Of $67 Trillion In Financial AssetsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 06/05/2014 14:33 -0400
Another quarter, and another confirmation that in the New Normal only the rich get richer, pardon: richest.
Borrowing heavily from Albert Edwards "Ice Age" analogy of our new normal, PIMCO's Bill Gross, after explaining why he does not have a cell phone, discusses the "frigidly low" levels of "The New Neutral" in this week's letter. Confirming Ben Bernanke's "not in my lifetime" promise for low rates and a lack of normalization, Gross explains that the "the new neutral" real policy rate will be close to 0% as opposed to 2-3% (just as in Japan) leaving an increasingly small incremental rise in rates as potentially responsible for popping the bubble. Gross concludes, "if 'The New Neutral' rates stay low, it supports current prices of financial assets. They would appear to be less bubbly," clearly defending the valuation of bonds knowing that he can't expose stocks as 'bubbly' without exposing his firm to more outflows.
With Thomas Piketty's book on inequality topping the charts among the book-reading common-folk, ambitious ex-bankers are enjoying the high-life in ways not even Gordon Gecko could have dreamed up. If greed is good, then this is better as former Lehman execs sell the first ".luxury" website domain names and ex-Goldmanites pitch "curated environments that optimize health" for home living with 'Vitamin-C-infused showers'. Of course, as one banker opines philosophically, "it's all about balance...it's important that people who have the capital are making it as useful as possible."
Has the next major economic downturn already started? The way that you would answer that question would probably depend on where you live. If you live in New York City, or the suburbs of Washington D.C., or you work for one of the big tech firms in the San Francisco area, you would probably respond to such a question by saying of course not. In those areas, the economy is doing great and prices for high end homes are still booming. But in most of the rest of the nation, evidence continues to mount that the next recession has already begun for the poor and the middle class.
One of the most important, but difficult to measure, concepts in macroeconomics is the natural or equilibrium real interest rate. This is the rate of interest consistent with full employment and stable inflation. The last few weeks have seen bond yields tumble and a rising cacophony of market participants questioning both the Fed's central tendency of terminal or natural rates (around 4%) and the market's perception of how fast we get there. SF Fed Williams models see a 1.8% natural rate, BofA also believes it is between 1.5 and 2%; and now Citi admits, "fair value of long-term rates may be lower than we and other market participants judged them to be."
The inevitable shuttering of at least 3 billion square feet of retail space is a certainty. The aging demographics of the U.S. population, dire economic situation of both young and old, and sheer lunacy of the retail expansion since 2000, guarantee a future of ghost malls, decaying weed infested empty parking lots, retailer bankruptcies, real estate developer bankruptcies, massive loan losses for the banking industry, and the loss of millions of retail jobs. Since we always look for a silver lining in a black cloud, we predict a bright future for the SPACE AVAILABLE and GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign making companies.
On a weekend so full of memories, we thought it appropriate to remember what was promised so many years ago from our central-planning overlords. All that printed money, all those bailouts, all those promises and Bernanke's statement that "Fed actions did not favor Wall Street over Main Street..." and this is what we end up with... "not" all time highs in what really matters...
After the crisis, many expected that the blameworthy would be punished or at the least be required to return their ill-gotten gains—but they weren’t, and they didn’t. Many thought that those who were injured would be made whole, but most weren’t. And many hoped that there would be a restoration of the financial safety rules to ensure that industry leaders could no longer gamble the equity of their firms to the point of ruin. This didn’t happen, but it’s not too late. It is useful, then, to identify the persistent myths about the causes of the financial crisis and the resulting Dodd-Frank reform legislation and related implementation...."Plenty of people saw it coming, and said so. The problem wasn’t seeing, it was listening."
The days of Bernanke's "non-Giffen good" speech circuit may come to an end far sooner than the ex-Chairsatan wishes: "UBS and Goldman Sachs considered his fees too high." Others were quick to point out the obvious:"You can spend $250,000 for Bernanke’s time at a private dinner, or you could just sit down and read what people like Janet Yellen and Mark Carney have to say," David Rosenberg said"... Indeed, this is one deflation which we are confident the Fed Chairman wishes he was 100% certain he could stop in 15 minutes. Sadly, like in the case of everything else relating to Bernanke, when paying for smoke and mirrors it is only a matter of time before everyone, even the uber-richer poseurs, realize that the product they are buying is nothing but a cheap commodity.
Ben Bernanke told those that could afford to hear that rates would not "normalize" in his lifetime and just last week we noted the market's shifting attitude towards what a post-rate-hike 'rate normalization cycle' might look like. As longer-term bond yields tumble, the Fed's Bill Dudley just confirmed the lower post-rate-hike "terminal rate" meme:
DUDLEY: LONG-TERM RATES LIKELY TO BE LOWER THAN HISTORIC NORM, SAYS EQUILIBRIUM REAL RATE MAY BE LOWER THAN NORMAL
In other words, if and when the Fed starts raising rates, the highest rate to which it will raise rates in the next cycle is now expected to be notably below previous historical 'norms'. And stocks didn't like it and long-term bond yields tumbled...
Equity markets are not happy about the Fed's Charles Plosser's economic exuberance ("3% growth no matter the weather" which is 20% above consensus of 2.5%) and his 'good-news-bad-news' monetary policy hawkishness ("may need to raise rates sooner rather than later"). But perhaps the most crucial part of his speech this morning was what the headlines notably left out. Plosser admonished his global central bank brethren: "if central banks do not limit their interventionist strategies and focus on returning to more normal policymaking aimed at promoting price stability and long-term growth, then they will simply encourage the financial markets to ignore fundamentals and to focus instead on the next actions of the central bank." Simply put, he warned, "central bankers have become too sensitive and desirous of managing prices in the financial world.."
During the bubblicious years from 2000 through 2014, while Wall Street used control fraud and virtually free money provided by the Fed to siphon off hundreds of billions of ill-gotten profits from the economy, the average middle class family saw their income drop and their debt load soar. This is crony capitalism success at its finest. The oligarchs count on the fact math challenged, iGadget distracted, Facebook focused, public school educated morons will never understand the impact of inflation on their daily lives. The pliant co-conspirators in the dying legacy media regurgitate nominal government reported income figures which show median household income growing by 30% over the last fourteen years. In reality, the real median household income has FALLEN by 7% since 2000 and 7.5% since its 2008 peak. Again, using a true inflation figure would yield declines exceeding 15%.
At $250,000 per speech, this better be worth it...
- *BERNANKE SAYS QE WASN'T A PANACEA BUT `AVOIDED DEFLATION'
- *BERNANKE SAYS EQUITIES HAVE RISEN BECAUSE ECONOMY IS STRONGER
- *BERNANKE SAYS FED BALANCE SHEET COULD BE KEPT LARGE IF NEEDED
It appears not...